Sunday, September 27, 2015

Diversity: A Journalistic Imperative

Eben George

Neighborhoods and communities across the country are becoming more diverse. The United States Census projects that minority populations in the United States will surpass the white majority by the year 2044. With minority populations growing, why don't we see them in the news more often?

Journalism is a profession under siege. The profession is predominately made up of whites, which brings about skepticism from minority groups. Only 25 percent of African-Americans and 33 percent of hispanics believe that the media accurately portrays their communities, according to a study conducted in 2014.

They don't believe their communities are accurately portrayed because members of their community do not hold positions to tell the stories for them. It makes sense, how could a middle aged white man truly know what the important and pressing issues that face today's black communities? He can't. He has no experience or insight to accurately do so.

The media should reflect the public opinion and image. If the public is growing more diverse then newsrooms should follow suit. "Media diversity is not some type of progressive ideal. It's a journalistic imperative for any outlet devoted to fairness and accuracy in it's coverage." Wesley Lowery said.

"If you're a news organization that wants comprehensive coverage, you need a newsroom full of different types of people who are going to hit it off with different types of people, build different types of sources and find and tell different types of stories. That's the way it works." Lowery added.

Having individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds and demographics would undoubtedly aid the journalistic quest for truth and accuracy. White America is a far different place than black of hispanic America. A white man can't tell you what it is like to be followed throughout a department store, because he likely has not experienced it. The differences of our race, ethnicity, and cultures can come together in collaboration with one another and give us a new wider and more accurate perspective of the stories that unfold in front of us.

We are beginning to see more people of color working in newsrooms across the country. Ohio University's own, Wesley Lowery is making a name for himself in the business. He currently is a reporter at The Washington Post covering law enforcement and justice.

Wesley Lowery/ Twitter @WesleyLowery
Since graduating from the highly regarded E.W. Scripps School of Journalism in 2012, Lowery has already made a splash. In 2014 Lowery was a part of a team of reporters that received the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News for their coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombings while working at The Boston Globe.

Lowery also made nation headlines in 2014 when he was detained by heavily armed officers in Ferguson, Missouri. He was there covering the unrest and protest following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Micheal Brown, that was caught on camera. 

In his Washington Post article, Lowery describes his encounter with a group of white officers dressed in attire more suitable for a war zone than a public display of civil unrest. Lowery was able to capture some of the incident on camera with his cell phone.

Wesley Lowery's encounter with Ferguson Police/ The Washington Post

What we do not see in the video, Lowery describes to us in his article. He followed the officer's instructions to leave the McDonald's. After being given contradictory instructions on how to exit the fast food restaurant the officers decided to take him in. Once Lowery understood that he was going to be arrested, he proceeded to act peacefully, not to give off the impression he was resisting.

"My hands are behind my back." He said. "I am not resisting, I am not resisting." To which the officer       replied, "You're resisting. Stop resisting."

As they took Lowery into custody the officers used unnecessary force, slamming him into a pop machine and placing him in cuffs. He was afraid. The fact that Wesley Lowery is black makes this personal narrative more interesting. The Ferguson Police Department has a poor reputation among blacks in Ferguson when it comes to race relations.

Wesley Lowery's incident with the police gives us an up-close look into a black man's encounter with a white officer. For the sake of argument, what if Lowery was white? Would his rights had been violated in the same way? 

Diversity in the newsroom provides the media with multiple perspectives of the world around us.  Our race and ethnicity helps shapes us as individuals and influences how we perceive the world. If we are going to be a nation that prides ourselves on equality then we have to change the way we cover our news. Increasing the amount of non-whites in the newsroom would result in more accurate and more fair representations of minority groups. Voices from all backgrounds and demographics deserve to be heard, not just the majority.

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